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Arctic Hare

Nicole Cosgrove

March 18, 2021

Introduction

The Arctic hare is found in the wild in Greenland, the Arctic, and parts of Canada. They can be found as far north as Newfoundland and Labrador. They usually live in mountainous regions and they enjoy and thrive in cold weather. They have more fat than other hares, to help protect against temperatures that can drop nearly as low as -30 °C.

These natural burrowers eat what food they can find including plants, moss, and lichens. While this breed will live between 3-5 years in the wild, they do not do well in captivity and may only live between 1-2 years.

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Quick Facts about The Arctic Hare

Species Name: Lepus arcticus
Family: Leporids
Care Level: High
Temperature: -40 °C
Temperament: Wild, Scavengers
Color Form: Blue-Gray to White
Lifespan: 1 to 5 years
Size: 18–28 inches
Diet: Plants, moss, berries

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Arctic Hare Overview

The Arctic hare is highly adapted to living in extremely cold temperatures. Its coat is bright white during the snowy winter months and changes to a blue-gray that matches the local rocks during the rest of the year.

With predators including foxes, wolves, lynx, owls, hawks, and a host of other animals, they can run at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour and their eyes are placed such that they can see all around them without having to turn their heads. The hare also has a relatively high body fat ratio of 20%. Combined with their thick fur, this helps to keep them warm even in the coldest climate.

While they can survive on a diet of berries, plants, and even bark, they will also eat meat, when necessary. They have adapted to survive, and they have adapted very well.

The breed does not acclimate well to living in captivity, primarily because they need a lot of room and they enjoy burrowing while thriving at freezing temperatures. As such, they are not usually kept as pets, aside from rescue animals. When they are kept in captivity, the Arctic hare tends to endure a much shorter lifespan of around 18-24 months, rather than up to 5 years in the wild.

arctic hare
Image Credit: Zuzanna Musial, Pixabay

How Much Do Arctic Hares Cost?

Arctic hares are not kept as pets. As such, they are not available to purchase and cannot be found online. They can be sponsored through various animal welfare societies, although they are in the “least risk” category of conservation status.

Typical Behavior & Temperament

Outside breeding season, the Arctic hare is usually a solitary animal. During the breeding season, they may form small packs. The hares move by hopping or jumping, are exceptional swimmers, and can run at speeds of up to 40 mph. They burrow underground and can dig snow to help find food such as berries.

Appearance & Varieties

Arctic hares can vary in color, depending on where they originate, but all adopt a white coat during the snowy winter months. This helps them blend into their surroundings. When there is less snow on the ground, the coat may change color and will usually match that of local rocks or local ground. The most common summer color of the hare is a light brown or a blue-gray, to match the rocks in their local environment.

arctic hare in the snow
Image Credit: Steve Sayles, Flickr

Arctic Hares In The Wild

The breed is a wild animal and they are not kept in captivity, even by the Eskimos who do hunt and trap them for food and their bodies. Keeping these animals in captivity greatly reduces their lifespan, and because they are not considered to be at high risk in the wild, they are rarely found in sanctuaries or zoos. Males have territories that can span up to 150 hectares in size.

Predators And Prey

The Arctic hare will eat meat to survive, but they more commonly eat plants, berries, leaves, moss, and lichen. When they do eat meat, they will consume fish and the stomach contents of some larger animals.

The breed has developed several tools and skills to help it avoid predators, but it is hunted by foxes, wolves, lynx, owls, falcons, hawks, and other highly skilled predators. The hare has fur that enables them to blend into the background. They are good swimmers, so can escape some predators in the water.

They are also capable of running at high speeds and can take off rapidly from a standing start with incredible acceleration. Young hares are more likely to fall prey than adults, but even from a few days old the breed can remain completely motionless to avoid attracting the attention of predators.

arctic hare running
Image Credit: Karl Eiríksson, Flickr

Their Interactions With Humans

While hares are not kept as pets, they do still have some interactions with humans. They are considered a source of food to Eskimos. However, the taste and appeal of the meat vary according to the time of year, age and condition of the animal itself, and other factors. For example, males are considered inedible during mating season. Even when they are considered edible, the lean and full-flavored meat is normally combined with fat to improve its taste. Eskimos do consider the ear cartilage of the animal to be a delicacy, and they will chew milk glands from the animal to drink the milk as a medicine to combat nausea. Virtually the whole of the animal is eaten or used by the trappers and their families.

Eskimos also use the hare’s fur to make gloves and other items of clothing. The absorbent fur may also be used to make bandages and feminine supplies. Although the skin tears easily, it is still sometimes used for sheets and other products.

There are no known negative impacts on the economy or human life from the Arctic hare.

Breeding

The male will usually find a new female each breeding season. The male attracts a female using physical contact and the male will follow the female until she succumbs. The pair remain together until offspring are born. Once the young have been born, the male will often leave to find a new partner. Females will usually have one litter during a mating season, although they may have two litters in some cases. A litter may consist of up to eight leverets, and a hare can breed from the spring following its birth.

After birth, the mother will stay with the young for the first 2-3 days to ensure that the nest is not discovered and the young are killed. After this, the young hare quickly develops the ability to stay motionless and hidden to avoid detection and ensure that they are not predated. Over time, the young hare will learn to fend for itself and will become less and less dependent on its mother.

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The Arctic Hare

The Arctic hare bears many similarities to other hares. They have large, padded feet, and long ears. They have very thick fur coats that change color according to the time of the year and to either match the snowy tundra or the rocky backdrops against which they live. These hares are not kept as pets, are not considered endangered, but they are hunted for materials and as food by the Eskimos of the Arctic, Canada, and Greenland, where they are naturally found. They do not harm the human economy or life. In the wild, this breed of hare will live up to five years. If kept in captivity, the hare only has a lifespan of around 18-24 months.


Featured Image: Robert Brown, Flickr

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.